Can you trick Facebook? More importantly, can Britney Spears help you trick Facebook? A graphic designer named Simone C. Niquille created an art project privacy advocates will love that tests the limitations of facial recognition software. She designed a series of shirts called “RealFace Glamoflage” specifically to help Internet users evade facial recognition technology all over the Internet.
Many websites use facial recognition software, but Facebook’s decision to take advantage of the technology is important because it’s the most widely used social network, so the recognition database it is amassing will likely be more vast than any other. If you’re not comfortable with Facebook’s forays into facial recognition, the company’s decisions to buy facial recognition software Face.com and to change its terms of service to allow your profile pictures in auto-tagging tests may leave you cold. If the social network’s insistence on moving forward with facial recognition gives you the heebie-jeebies — but not enough to quit using it — Niquille’s t-shirt campaign may bring you closer to a solution.
Niquille sells shirts featuring prints of the faces of celebrity impersonators for Michael Jackson, Barack Obama, and Britney Spears — shirts specially designed to make facial recognition algorithms go berserk. Other shirts feature the faces of women culled from pop-up ads on Facebook. “I reverse Google Image searched their images to try and figure out how one might end up as a face on a fake pop up ad,” Niquille explains. “I didn’t find the identities of those girls, instead multiple social media profiles, Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr selfies with the same photo. Thus, those girls are as hard to identify as a celebrity lookalike, I’d argue.”
The shirts haven’t been tested on Facebook because they were designed before the company stepped up its campaign to incorporate the technology, and Niquille doesn’t use the website. She initially had other facial recognition usage in mind when she developed the project “Picasa has an online automatic photo tagging service as well as iPhoto. Cameras have facial recognition to snap a photo when your smiling or to focus on your face, PayPal’s iPhone app let’s you pay with your face, or that’s a pilot, to mention only a few,” she says.
But even though the designs haven’t been proven to definitively thwart Facebook, Niquille says they’ve beaten other systems. “Depending on the facial recognition technology, the shirts work more or less successfully. They aren’t designed to protect in any way but to confuse,” she says. “I have tested them on multiple facial recognition or detection devices I had access to and the success rate obviously varies from light, wearer and software.”
Since the creator isn’t going to tests the concept on Facebook, looks like it’s up to the buyers to make sure these shirts work — and even if they don’t, they’re an interesting (albeit creepy) fashion statement.